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ESE504 : The Class : Adolescence : reading

PEPSI for Early Adolescents

Portrait of the Early Adolescent
Student building for this level is based on maintaining the discipline gains, recognizing and acknowledging student identification with valued peer groups and self ambivalence by practicing methods for valuing self and recognizing idiosyncratic strengths and weaknesses.

School Rules Be Real
  Capitalize on your strengths
  Do your best

There are three basic elements in the internalization of moral values:

1) the spirit of authority and discipline
2) attachment to social groups
3) autonomy or self-determination

Role of the youth
The emerging adolescent is in a similar situation to the young child in many ways. This time the faltering steps are not those of locomotion, but of social acceptance and self questioning. The toddling of these young people in our classrooms is groping and faltering in emotional, social and physical spheres just as it was for the 2-year-old, but the size of the child seems to blind us to the vulnerability and uncertainty of the adolescent. Like the emerging toddler, in some there is rashness and lack of caution. There may be headlong rushing with little awareness of life-threatening danger or destructive consequences. This emotional child and physical adult often finds the turmoil of the emerging self just as distressing, confusing and challenging as the adults - one moment exhibiting brash certitude and an insistence on being taken seriously, followed by feeling mentally challenged, emotionally confused, socially distressed and physically and morally at a loss to choose or desire self control.

Many adolescents have difficulty being directed by adults. They seldom feel that they can share their conflicts with parents, or at least choose not do so. Many times their sense of tragedy, grieving and complaining appears to be dramatic nonsense about the trivial to adults. Adults tend to respond with an unsympathetic clipped comment. We know that adolescence was/is miserable, so just get on with it! I hear parents tell youngsters,. . . “Come on, Jimmy, Cowboy up!” . . . “Well, that’s life.” . . . “Take a couple of aspirins and get back on that ditch!”

During this time the magnetic pulls of autonomy and heteronomy are very strong, almost overpowering at times. It is as if the student is in the eye of the storm, pulled first toward the conformity to group and striving for peer acceptance, then dashed toward the overpowering need to demonstrate self will, usually directed toward the constraints which come from the parents. Part of the developmental push for autonomy is deepened by the hormonal changes, part by self doubt, part by the lack of real ability to exercise authority over others, which most young people experience in life. Though we tend to minimize how difficult it was for us or have forgotten the sense of tragedy, it is there for youngsters.


Self absorbed



Throw temper tantrums


High energy

uUe lots of space

Insist on own way, on choosing

Self in context

Quiet and retiring

Often take position as teacher's pet

May be decisive but not demanding

Accept and give compliments

Hold self "small" and contained


Sees others’ views

Adolescence might call to mind life’s greatest roller coaster. Everything goes by at breakneck speed, the slow and inching climb to a precipice, the dizzying dash to a new low. Some of us take the ride laughing and screaming, some let go to intensify the out-of-control sensation, and some look grim and determined. When the ride is over, some stagger off moaning, while others grab someone and dash back to go again. Those who found it overwhelming or nauseating find little sympathy. We can choose not to ride a coaster again, but the teen, in the midst of the ride of a lifetime, has to make the ride.

The teacher / student relationship is often the most important source of grounding and maturity, a place for young adolescents to turn for help and for answers. There is a very real need all the way through life to have a sense of mastery, control, expertise in some area, this is an ideal time to recognize the power of utilizing the teaching role as model and mentor to students. The anchor of “coach”, the band director, the English teacher, provides both comfort and the didactic realization of how one might carve out a future based on a tangible way of walking, talking, relating. The teacher model silhouettes a way of “doing” life using a special gift or area of expertise. This is something beyond the offering of the teaching role up to this point. It is vital for the student to feel the power and depth of the instructor’s excitement about learning and knowledge of a specific content areas as a part of having the opportunity to build relationship with this mentor. The sense of “awe” at the mathematical genius of the instructor intertwines with the adult hand reaching out to “share” the excitement of completing the chemistry experiment and discover the results together.

There is great power in the teacher and students working together to assemble the school paper. There is internal validation and reveling in playing with the chamber orchestra which is comprised of teacher and student musicians. There is a sense of well-being in working as a peer counselor, modeling dialogue and skills shared by the school counselor. The role of the teacher and student might best be summed up in this humorous story.

One day a classroom teacher, and the novice student teacher took a group of youngsters out on the lake to provide an outing which would allow students to conduct research in an aquatic environment. Midmorning the group was out of beverages. The student teacher said, “I’ll run into shore and get more drinks out of the car.”

The driver offered to start the boat and take her in, but the student teacher jumped over the side and walked across the surface of the lake, returning to the boat with the drinks. The students were aghast. How could anyone have walked on the water? It certainly seemed miraculous.

Not long after, the student teacher decided that the students needed a couple of books to resolve some the questions which were arising. One of the students hastily assured the others that he would not need to be taken to shore and jumped out of the water. Plop! He was totally submerged.

Not willing to be outdone by the student teacher, he scrambled back into the boat and gingerly pushed himself over the edge. He disappeared into the lake again. The student teacher shook her head, and took off across the water, skimming along the top of the waves. As the student drew himself back into the boat the teacher leaned over and quietly said,

”Why don’t you ask the student teacher to show you the rocks?”

P Physical development - changes in height, body structure, appearance and acquisition of secondary sexual characteristics make this a dynamic time of change and adjustment. Many youngsters suffer real and psychic pain because of the change in appearance and the rapid body changes that affect growth plates, long bones and the musculature. Students are often torn between the need for rest to support the growth of the body and the need for stimulation, that makes going to sleep unappealing.

E Emotional development - identity crisis and confusion across all dimensions of the construct of self are typically a part of this time frame. This is one of the most dynamic periods of growth, and makes it difficult for many youth to maintain equilibrium and self control.

P Philosophical development - this is an extremely sensitive time in the development of moral reasoning, with many students becoming affixed to an egocentric journey through life, along with a tendency to identify personal loyalty to a subculture or gang rather than mainstream community. This is also the point when some youngsters settle on “things” rather than people for achieving personal gratification.

S Social development - peers and gangs become a referent source, and adult perspective loses much of its power, although a great teaching model may continue to provide esteem messages.

I Intellectual development - the prefrontal lobes come fully on line during this period, but at varying times for individual students, so it is difficult to determine when abstract thinking and formal operations are intact.

The range of growth is most extreme during this period of time. Not only is there great variation, but the complexity of changes makes it very noticeable to students. Those girls who develop too early, and those boys and girls who are late in arriving at pubescence or achieving adult dimensions are at a distinct disadvantage. It may be so important to them that other thought processes are diminished. Obsessing about the body, pimples, sexual appearance, attractiveness to others and self are so common that addressing their powerfulness through curriculum and study is preferable to attempting to ignore and work around them.

Students who gain understanding of the physical nature of their bodies are less likely to be anxious and are more likely to accept the developmental differences as positive. Teaching students about the bones and integument makes it less likely that they will ruminate about questions that feel too private to share. A middle school teacher shared this example.
Last year I was explaining the reproductive cycle to the eighth grade biology class. After class one of the girls came up and told me in hushed tones that she was greatly relieved. A boy had given her a “French” kiss . . . and she had been frightened that she had become pregnant.

She felt too ashamed to tell anyone about the experience. She had been throwing up with the anxiety of the situation, not knowing where to turn.

Her relief was very real upon learning the true nature of human sexuality and reproduction.

I was certainly shocked by the revelation. My gosh, the girl has a straight “A” grade average. How could she have gotten such an idea?

It is important to remember that since the adolescent body is growing so rapidly, the student is more likely to damage joints and growth plates. Self competitive sports are less likely to result in serious permanent damage. In this time frame, students may have more reticence about dressing out, showering, seeming puny or underdeveloped. Body odor upsets many students as do menstrual accidents and newly acquired hips, thighs, breasts, or lack of body hair and sexual signatures. The school programs can reflect recognition of this sensitively and astutely. Numerous alternatives to competitive teams and forced showering and dressing in peer view can be developed. Such attention to development will assist students to ease through this time.

Erikson (1968) described the complexity of concerns facing the adolescent. The diffusion of tasks and issues facing the emotional development provides definition for the array of student actions, lack of careful attention to academics, uncharacteristic responses and mercurial mood swings. As we become more fully cognizant of the burden these students carry, it helps us to revise the scope and sequence of the educational milieu to assist in defining and addressing student issues and concerns. It is incumbent upon the teacher to be fully present for the emerging adolescent in the most meaningful terms.
In addition, as we become more clear about the composition of the journey of most adolescents, we must remember that the students are not fully able to recognize or define their dilemmas. Many do not understand their feelings of frustration or uncertainty. Few are able to be rational about feelings of polarization. It will be a retrospective appreciation which will occur to students upon successful completion. After students emerge from the intensity, once time has given distance and there is more maturity, then the student can be insightful, reflective, clear about choices and decisions. Much like the angry person who bursts out with “I am not upset! Why are you hassling me?” the students weigh each moment, feeling fully engaged and lacking personal perspective about the depth of joy or morass.

Just as the emotional development looks like a step backwards, the moral reasoning may seem tangential. The acting out behaviors, challenging established rules and parental dictates, lack of internal reflection and verbalized sense of being victimized or put upon and misunderstood signals the need and readiness for better coping behaviors and help in moving beyond stereotypical responses as a means of gaining acceptance. Gossiping, visiting judgment on others and intolerance of others’ personal weaknesses are indicators of the student immersion in this stage. Energetic excess followed by depression, despondency, lack of self discipline, eating problems, sexual acting out, substance abuse and violence are also frequent markers for this age. The talk of hypocrisy exemplifies lack of understanding and a rational perspective of their emotional development and their ability to see themselves rationally.

Listening to peer conversations provides an excellent sampling of the moral reasoning and life perspective. They party, their parents are alcoholics; they are searching for closeness and intimacy, their best friend from last month is being stupid and letting others take advantage; they are taking what’s due them, the student with the missing books is a jerk to have given out a locker combination. Those intermediate age gains -- seeing the view of others, saving rain forests, -- is only temporarily lost. Once the student has emerged from this retooling period, there is greater energy, depth of understanding and maturity to follow causes and beliefs, to right wrongs and provide support to the poor in spirit.

During this time, adults who model and provide compassion are critical. It speeds the process and provides that set of footprints which makes the dance of adulthood easier to attempt

The group, gang, or clique is the common referent for the early adolescent. Since parental pressure and perspective is eschewed, the value and importance of teacher as model is intensified. The task of sorting out self is simplified when a teacher works with students to clarify options, expand perspective, assist in recognizing and choosing when to conform rather than being swayed by peer pressure. Warmth, attentiveness and consistency provide the best environment to assist students to return to mutual perspective taking and being able to more realistically assess themselves. Depriving students of social interaction is inappropriate and likely to lengthen the process of working through peer pressure. It is important during this time to maintain our own maturity of perspective. Defaming peers, proclaiming a lack of trust or using sarcasm to whittle the student into conformity are not useful tools. From experience, there may be natural reactions to the behavior patterns of this age student, but like yelling at the class to quiet down, they are only momentarily useful and tend to set anger and pay-back feelings in motion.

This developmental area is as complex as the others. The ability to think abstractly and to utilize a more sophisticated framework including conservation of time and matter is suggested by Piaget (1952). One professor at the university suggests that Piaget’s sample of his own three children may have been skewed. It appears that formal operations is more likely to emerge toward the end of adolescence for most of his students.

Erikson (1968) on the other hand, suggests that this is an area that may begin emerging, but that it may be a protracted journey before the student moves to resolution and acceptance of the more mature perspectives. A more useful way of providing a successful academic environment may mirror Lazear (1992) and Gardner’s (1991) identification of seven distinctive forms of intelligence.

Youngsters who have a sophisticated logical intelligence are ready to proceed in mathematical discovery and experimentation. Others in the class, just as bright, but with a different intellectual focus may need to renegotiate fractions, number concepts, memorize the times tables. It will be destructive to both students if the teacher proceeds to review concepts and then rapidly moves on to pre-algebraic material. This is the ideal academic place to move to a more thematic and individualized approach to education. The students will respond better, the time is better spent, the talents and emerging gifts more truly honored, and the students will feel validated and valued. Since motivation for school work is competing with body image, peer approval, lack of self confidence, indifference, emotional crises, every gain is important. Placing the student in a defining and evaluating role for self provides a significant educational edge.

You should now:

Go on to review the readings in the Rice text


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